Brian Nguyen trains beyond the constraints of sets and reps for lasting results.
Sure, Brian Nguyen’s name is continuously associated with the big ones in Hollywood: Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Anthony Mackie, Mila Kunis—hell, even Will Farrell; but it’s the behind the scenes work that Nguyen puts into his program that comes to light not only in front of the camera … but beyond. Nguyen, owner of BRIK Fitness in Redondo Beach, relies on purposeful connections to transform the bodies, and mindset, of his clients.
Tapping into his Sports Medicine background, Nguyen (a Certified Athletic Trainer by the National Athletic Training Association, Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and Functional Movement Specialist) shares with Fitness Trainer how tools from his time as a Fitness Coach to the NFL and AFL, have produced lasting results in celebrity, and everyday, clientele.
What inspires you as a trainer / coach?
It’s never been in my interests to be in the weight room being 5’4” and only 125 lbs wet — pure strength isn’t my thing. Being on the football field with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I always wanted to take care of the guys that were hurt and be that support system to see them through. When that injured player is back on the field, you feel that victory.
As the years progressed and I became more experienced as an athletic trainer, the more I realized how key my role was to prevent rather than take care of the injuries. The prevention side of the injuries was sheerly on the side of how well these athletes train in the off-season and begin to prepare in the preseason, so that during the in-season they don’t suffer those traumatic injuries. A lot of that world started to become much clearer to me as to where I can make a big difference in my athletes.
How did you manage to put that realization into action?
When I started working in the NFL with the Jaguars, I was the low man on the totem pole … meaning when the team went away, the injured players stayed behind with me in the training room. I felt empowered during those times, it was up to me to take care of these guys and these were the guys we needed on the field so that we could win the next games in the following weeks. We weren’t missing a beat so to speak.
I put my heart and soul into bringing these guys through great regimens of rehabilitation. Getting them out to the field were some of my favorite moments. These were the aha moments. You’re spending an hour with them doing all of the mobilization work, the hands on active release therapy and then getting them to activate, you do their core work and then you get them out to the field. You get the ladders out, you get the footwork done. Tweak, tweak, tweak! And before you know it, you are so in rhythm with these guys. It takes weeks to develop, and once you’ve got that rhythm and trust you feel a part of, not singular, but a part of a team. To know that I was such an important part of what was happening in the grand scheme of what we consider a win, I loved it. I loved how having the Sports Medicine side and Strength and Conditioning side really was such a huge factor in whether this team really won or not. That was an aha moment, just the feeling that I had knowing that this team was getting better because of the work that I was putting in.
Would you say that experience helped build your philosophy as a coach/trainer?
My philosophy is definitely about connection. As the years have progressed, it’s been so important to unravel what connection is. It’s such a deep rooted thing. I’m a huge John Wooden guy, you know from UCLA, the athletics department it’s ingrained into you and there’s so much of that pyramid that I hold so true and valuable. At the foundation of anything is your own self truth. To know others is great, but to know yourself, well that’s mastery.
The idea of mastery is a big thing for me. Being a master isn’t someone who creates the most followers. To me a master is a person who creates the most masters. That sense of mastery to me isn’t so much like “oh man, you gotta have a gym that has 250 members in 200 square feet, that’s what mastery is”. The only thing I really help people master is really just the connection to themselves.
How do you take your passion for athletic/performance based training and translate that to clients in the entertainment industry as well as clients who work a 9-5?
It’s really always driven by what that end why is. You have to keep digging for that. In the scope of people that I train, the one thing as a coach that you can help people do is always get them to envision the end.
• What does that look like for you? What are we going for? Like ok, we’re going for two jean sizes smaller thats awesome!
• Why? Alright cool, you get to the reason why the person wants to do it. “I want my spouse to start looking at me like that again” or “I don’t want my children to be influenced the wrong way, I want them to be strong”. Those are the why’s you want to get to. As a coach, why you do what you do is the same thing.
• What’s your end goal? So often coaches don’t tell their clients their end goal and the clients themselves don’t tell the coaches their end goal, and that’s where relationships really tarnish.
That’s where it’s hard to figure out the lines of communication between you two. Developing that line of talk doesn’t have to be a one hour sit down in the beginning. Its totally cool to say “Look, I’m really looking forward to getting to know you, and seeing if this works out. Over the next month let’s just see each other and let’s hopefully break some barriers down. What we’ll be doing together is really kind of carving out what we want to get to”. For me as your coach, I not only want to know what your goal is, but if I know why, then I can always keep you motivated and I can always keep us in mind and just being really true to that message and energy.
Speaking of motivation, what’s a key concept you use to help keep them on track?
When you do create your community, it’s really important to show them your creativity. That’s the magic word. Creativity is the space that you enter when you know your stuff. People always get a kick out of the fact that I’ve trained a lot of NFL players. They also get a kick out of things that I do for Wahlberg. They get a kick out of the comedy routines I do sometimes.
One of the things my class likes to do on Saturdays is an obstacle course. Because it’s springtime and summer is around the corner, I do a lot of stuff to help them get ready for the summer. Everyone needs obstacles.
When you’re a coach and you can enter your creative space, clients can really appreciate it and it’s great. It’s one of those things that you authentically always provide. I think that when you enter your own creative space, then you will always be able to provide authentic content. Own your thing. Whatever it is that you do. Start building skill to it and get creative knowing that you’ll get to a space that allows you to express that creativity. At the end of the day you live it, you express it.
They will understand how health is their wealth if you continue to show them that wealth. If you continue to give them avenues where they can express that wealth and that creative side of making them a part of your lifestyle is such a huge aspect to gaining a real fan. Not because you know the greatest exercise, but no because you really gave a shit enough to even have a special night where you invite other people and get to learn about their families and really grow a community from a whole part of themselves.
What are some of your most memorable client breakthroughs?
Bo Kaplan, CEO of Lakeshore Learning, he’s had several trainers in his lifetime all of which tried to help him gain muscle. Finally, I bring on the functional movement screen and tell him about his lower body dysfunctions, his core, how he can’t lunge and can’t touch his toes. I tell him off the bat, I can build you, but if I don’t build this other stuff it aint ever gonna happen, so you’re looking at about a year’s work just doing the core stuff alone before we even start really getting the compound lifting and really building … if you really want to go there.
Because it was true. But he did it! He stayed true to it, I stayed true to it. Hes 20lbs heavier, hes got pecs, hes got a build and can deadlift 2x his bodyweight. He can do 29 pull ups in a minute. This guy has changed himself. The thing that he continues to always say is that “you know for a year, I thought the motherfucker was bullshitting me, just making me do weird shit the whole time and I didn’t realize, this is a whole body thing no matter how you slice it and your lower body will never carry anything if it has no strength and no ability to carry anything up top. I didn’t realize that if I didn’t do lower body, it would never happen.” You put in the quality. Its how much quality are you willing to put in to make a change for somebody and just being honest in how long it takes to make a change. Knowing there’s going to be ups and downs. Bo got sick, Bo got injured, things happened, but you know we made it through.
Another Client I had, a fellow UCLA Bruin, he wanted more flexibility. He was coming up to his 40’s as well, father of two. Definitely didn’t want to be hindered by his gut. And so he started training with me. During one conversation, I asked him “You know Jared, I know you like to have a little drink, but what are the chances that we take drinking down to let’s say three times a week instead of everyday?” He goes “Oh man, that’s kind of tough.” I was like well, how about four times? So then it turned into four times a week. Another two weeks later he goes “You know Brian, I’m only drinking two times a week.” And I asked what are you even drinking for now? And hes goes “You know? What am I drinking for?” From that moment, he doesn’t drink anymore. Maybe on occasion, socially. But he doesn’t drink anymore. There’s nothing bound to it. He says he has more quality time with his kids and it was a small conversation that made it happen.
Those are powerful things that happen with clients when you allow them to really embody that lifestyle. You give them the room to grow. We all too often try to do everything for our people and try to limit what they do and how they think.
Anything you’d like to leave to trainers/coaches?
You are enough! You are already enough. Do your best with what you’ve got. I promise, if you continue to enjoy it and you continue to find the things that make you stay creative with it, then you’ll change lives.
A.J. Brye, is a New York City based National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist. With 10-plus years in the Fitness and Athletic Industry, A.J. develops fitness programs that are functional and complement anyone’s lifestyle, in turn making daily life more enjoyable. Anthonybrye@gmail.com